“I understand your pain, but the horrible truth is that it will never be enough. No matter what hell Penn goes through, it will never bring my daughter back. So no, she hasn’t suffered enough.” A harsh acrimony stung Diana’s words. “She will never suffer enough.”
“Why are you so focused on Penn?” Lydia asked. She’d been mostly content to let the others steer the conversation, but this, apparently, had been bothering her. “There were four girls who left Persephone alone that day, four girls you cursed.”
“The other two are dead, and they were little more than collateral damage. Just as you are now.” Diana motioned to Gemma then. “In order for Penn and Thelxiepia to be truly punished, I had to take the others down with them.”
“Thelkispediplipa?” Marcy asked, stumbling over the name. “That’s Thea, right?”
“Thea?” Diana said, then nodded. “Unlike Penn, Thea did actually love. She cared deeply for her sisters, and seeing them suffer was her punishment. In truth, the worst of my wrath was saved for Thea.”
“Why? She’s nowhere near as evil as Penn,” Gemma pointed out.
“That is precisely why,” Diana said. “She knew that what she was doing was wrong. She even cared for Persephone, but not enough to keep her safe. Not enough to deny Penn her pleasures to protect my daughter. If Penn was rotten fruit, Thea was the one who watered the tree.”
“All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” Lydia said softly, and Diana nodded again.
“That’s why I sent Bastian to seduce Thea, too. But I told him to favor Penn, so that it would break Thea’s heart worst of all. I was hoping maybe she would stand up to her sister, fight for something she loved, but she never did.”
“She never will,” Gemma whispered.
After all she’d seen Penn do, Thea had done little more than step aside and watch it happen. Even when the sisters she claimed to love were murdered, Thea never acted to help them. She’d done nothing but obey until very recently.
Thea had begun to help Gemma, and that was a tremendous act of betrayal against Penn and showed a change growing within her. By giving Gemma the scroll, Thea had proven that she was willing to die to stop Penn, and yet her only attempts at undermining Penn had involved sneaking around behind her back.
It seemed that while Thea was on Gemma’s side, the only thing she truly feared in life wasn’t death but confronting Penn. She would do nearly whatever it took to help Gemma and break the curse, except for standing up to her sister.
“So it seems,” Diana agreed.
“Not to belabor the point, but Achelous really made our town for the sirens?” Marcy asked. “Then why don’t they spend all their time there? Why don’t they love it if it’s supposed to be some kind of siren paradise?”
“Because they hate their father,” Gemma said.
Marcy shook her head. “Then why did they come back?”
“For me,” Diana said. “They were looking for the muse Thalia, hoping she would lead them to me.”
“She’s going to kill you, you know,” Harper said pointedly, and she was so irritated and enraged, Gemma was afraid she might get up soon and slap Diana. “If we could find you, eventually Penn and Thea will, too. And they’ll kill you. You do understand that.”
“I do. And I’ve made peace with it.” Diana looked out the window again. “Maybe I even welcome death. That’s why I’ve made my home so close to Capri. It’s far enough inland that Penn won’t readily travel here, but close enough that it really won’t make it that hard to find.” She breathed in deeply. “Forever is too long for anyone to live.”
“If she kills you, you won’t even see your revenge exacted,” Gemma said. “If you won’t even be here to watch them suffer, then why not end this? Why not let it go?”
“Or just let my sister go,” Harper interjected. “She’s not like them. She didn’t do anything to you or your daughter. Isn’t there a way that she can break free?”
Diana shook her head. “No. The curse binds them all together. I’ve already told you that I won’t help you break the curse.”
“But that’s only because you want to see Penn suffer.” An idea occurred to Gemma, and she licked her lips. “What if I killed Penn? Then would you tell me how to break it?”
Still staring out the window, Diana said, “If you tried to kill Penn, then you wouldn’t need to break the curse.”
“Why?” Gemma asked, and her heart pounded so loudly in her chest, she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to hear Diana’s reply over the sound of it. “What do you mean?”
Diana didn’t say anything right away, then the bell above the front door of the store chimed loudly.
“I think this visit has gone on quite long enough, and I now have customers to attend to.” Diana stood up. “If you’ll excuse me, you can show yourselves out.”
Gemma jumped to her feet. “No, Diana, please. If I kill Penn, is the curse broken?”
“I’ve already given you my answer,” Diana said as she continued toward the door.
“Diana!” Harper shouted, and chased after her. “You can’t just leave it like this. You can’t just walk away!”
“Harper.” Lydia grabbed Harper’s arm, stopping her from running out of the sitting room. “That’s enough. She’s helped as much as she’s going to.”
“We could hold her hostage and make her tell us,” Marcy suggested from where she sat on the floor, still petting Thallo.
“There’s nothing we have that could hold her if she didn’t want to be held, and that’s not how we do things,” Lydia said. “If she doesn’t want to help us, we can’t make her.”
Diana had gone back into the store, but Gemma couldn’t just let it go. Not like that. She chased after her, and when Diana wouldn’t stop, she grabbed the billowy sleeve of her dress, forcing Diana to turn back to her.
“No. It can’t end like this,” Gemma begged her, and she was near tears. “Demeter, please.”
They were nearly hidden underneath the dangling flowers and vines from the potted plants above them, but from the corner of her eye, Gemma could see the new customers. They were still far enough away that they wouldn’t hear them, but they were coming closer.